Solar power at last!

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By Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

Speaking Out

Sunday, May 11, 2014

AT LONG last, the government is now inclined to give solar power the importance that it genuinely deserves.

Already, the Philippines can be considered a leader in renewable energy, with a 30 per cent reliance on renewables. However, the utilization of solar power, the most readily available resource, seems to be the most neglected.

At the moment, solar energy ranks lowest among the sources of renewable energy in terms of installation allocation. The current installation priorities are as follows: hydro power - 250 megawatts; biomass – 250 megawatts; wind power – 200 megawatts and solar power – 50 megawatts.


The disparity is further highlighted by the fact that to date only a single solar plant with a capacity of 1.1 megawatts is operational. This plant, located in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, was commissioned in 2012.

In fairness, two more plants with a combined capacity of 27 megawatts are under construction. Another two with a combined capacity of 50 megawatts have been approved.

But considering all the possible benefits of solar energy, one would think that a more rapid solarization of the Philippines should be a no-brainer.

Here are some of the advantages of solar power:

First, solar power helps to slow global warming. The horrors of global warming are too obvious to need further elaboration.

Second, solar power is, at least in the Philippines, available year round. This advantage, of course, would not hold in Scandinavian countries.

Third, solar power can not be monopolized. It is free for all of us to use. Thus, while Russia can threaten to cut off Ukraine’s supply of oil and natural gas, Russia can not cut off the supply of sunshine in Ukraine. One report has it that yearly, Ukraine saves $3 billion dollars in reduced imports from Russia because of the operation of a single solar plant.

Of course, solar power has its disadvantages. This main disadvantage is the fact that the sun is not up 24 hours a day. At night time, no solar energy is produced so one can not rely on solar power alone.

This disadvantage is mitigated, however, by the fact that human activities more or less follow the movement of the sun. Thus, we need less energy at night. With proper storage of solar energy, nocturnal requirements for energy can still be met.

Another perceived disadvantage of solar power is lower energy conversion efficiency. Thus, more capital and more land is needed to put up solar plants compared to traditional energy sources.

Notwithstanding these “disadvantages,” solarization is already proceeding at a dramatic pace elsewhere in the world.

In 2010, Germany was reported to have added 5 gigawatts to the 3 gigawatts installed in 2009. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts.

The pace has accelerated after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

In 2013, CNN reports that solar power installations worldwide grew by 38 gigawatts, from 96 to 134.

Out of this additional solar capacity, the US contributed a record of 4.2 gigawatts, upping total US solar production to 10 gigawatts.

Also in 2013, India added 1 gigawatt of solar energy to its electrical grid, thus achieving 2.18 gigawatts. India hopes to install 10 gigawatts of solar energy by 2017 and 20 gigawatts in 2020.

With these developments across the globe, we are hungry for news here at home. We are glad to read about even modest initiatives by the likes of Juan Miguel Zubiri to utilize solar power in Bukidnon.

We are glad to read about a how former yaya, upon returning to her native Isla Verde in Batangas, took matters in her own hands to solve her household energy needs. With her hard-earned savings, she installed a 50-watt solar panel in her home.

But we are really really glad with the announcement from Department of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla that the government is now considering increasing tenfold the installation allocation for solar power, from 50 megawatts to 500 megawatts.

It took Petilla a while to start focusing on solar energy development. But as they say: Huli man daw at magaling, naiihabol din.


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